America’s Future Beats America’s Present At Delray Beach

Sebastian Korda (photo: DelrayBeachOpen/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty-year-old NextGen ATP rising star Sebastian Korda of the United States, with his family – including his father, former pro Petr, who is his coach – cheering him from courtside, defeated top American and No. 2 seed John Isner for the second time in as many meetings to advance to his first ATP Tour-level semifinal at the Delray Beach Open by Monday night.

The final score favored Korda 6-3 4-6, 6-3 and he got the job done in one hour and 52 minutes for one of the most satisfying wins of his young professional career.

The World No. 119 Korda has won six career ATP Tour-level matches and two of them have been against Isner. He previously beat the No. 25 Isner in the second round of last year’s French Open, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Meanwhile, Korda, who is on an eight-match winning streak going back to winning an ATP Challenger Tour event in Eckental, Germany last November, has enjoyed an undefeated week in his first tournament of the year. On Tuesday evening, he will face No. 74 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who upset No. 8 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, ranked 62nd, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.

In a quarterfinal match characterized by short rallies, Korda came out poised against Isner and proved to be the steadier player. He broke the American No. 1 twice, in the seventh and ninth games to secure the 36-minute opening set 6-3. Despite drilling five aces, Isner won just 57 percent of his first serves (12 of 21) while Korda was successful in winning 87 percent (13 of 15) of his own first serves.

From there, Isner recovered nicely in the middle set by breaking Korda in the seventh game and made it hold up. So, the quarterfinal came down to a one set winner-take-all and it was Korda who had the steadier, cool hand. Ahead 4-3, he broke Isner in the eighth game, and although he nearly was broken back in the ensuing game – requiring that he save three break points after trailing 0-40 to gain deuce – Korda prevailed at the end.

On his first match point, Korda hit a blistering first-serve that Isner was unable to get his racquet on. Game, set, match for Korda, who clenched his right fist in celebration as he strode to the net to fist tap Isner, who gave hit a well-deserved pat on the back as the two walked off court and headed their separate way.

“I was super happy with how I played that whole game,” Korda said during his well-attended virtual news conference soon after he left the Delray Beach Stadium center court. “I mean, [John] played an incredible first three points. The way he played those, I was like, ‘Too good,’ I couldn’t really do anything. He came to the net, he played big balls, he played a super good three points. I just got a little bit more aggressive. At the end, there was a lot of stress in that last game so I kind of let it go [with the roar].”

Korda outpointed Isner 91-73, which included five aces to Isner’s 13, and he won 82 percent (40 of 49) of his first-serve points.

“He’s a good player,” Isner said. “I think tonight in particular he was just a little bit better than I was. It was sort of an uphill battle for me out there. I wasn’t maybe feeling that great out there, but I competed hard and I fought hard. But he came up with the goods.”

During his virtual post-match news conference, Isner announced he is skipping next month’s Australian Open to remain at home with his family. “I’m staying home, Isner said. “At this stage of my career and in my life, I’ve always had visions of being able to travel with my family. … It really was just a situation where I didn’t want to be away from my family for that long.”

Harrison reaches first ATP Tour semifinal

Qualifier Christian Harrison of the United States, ranked 789th, continues to be the surprise of the Delray Beach Open. After recovering from eight surgeries, the 26-year-old younger brother of Ryan Harrison is just happy to be healthy and able to tap into some of his potential.

On Monday afternoon, Harrison reached his first ATP Tour semifinal with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 quarterfinal win over 2020 Rio de Janeiro finalist Gianluca Mager of Italy. Before the start of his run, Harrison had two career ATP Tour wins. This week, in the opening tournament of the 2020 ATP Tour season, he has three alone in the main draw – and he’s also reached the semifinals of the doubles with his brother.

“It feels pretty amazing,” Harrison said during an on-court interview after his win. “I’m just happy that I have everyone here, all my friends and family around that are here to support, especially here in Delray being so close to home.”

Next, Harrison will face 35th-ranked No. 4 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who trains at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla. Hurkacz defeated No. 293 Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador, 6-4, 6-4. Quiroz is the nephew of Ecuadorian great Andres Gomez and cousin of Nicolas Lapentti.

“Roberto is tricky to play against,” Hurkacz suggested after his match.“He slices a lot of balls. I tried to stay competitive and stay in the first set. I’m happy with the win … hopefully, I’ll play a great match [Tuesday].”

By the numbers

• Christian Harrison is the second-lowest-ranked semifinalist in Delray Beach Open tournament history behind Juan Martín del Potro, who accomplished the feat while ranked No. 1,042 in 2016. The last main-draw event that Harrison played in was at the 2018 International Hall of Fame event in Newport, R.I.

• A No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the Delray Beach Open championship only once in the tournament’s 29-year history. It came when No. 1 seed Mardy Fish won in 2009. With both No. 1 seed Cristian Garin and No. 2 seed John Isner gone from this year’s tournament, that record is secure for another year.